While on a recent trip to Sweden I had the opportunity to eat surströmming, a Swedish delicacy of fermented Baltic Sea herring that is considered to be one of the world’s smelliest food. I’d researched through YouTube to get an idea of what the experience would be like. It didn’t look pleasant. Many of the videos had folks emptying their guts immediately after opening the can.
My Viking princess, Anna, informed me that I shouldn’t worry because all those YouTubers were “doing it wrong”. NOBODY of sound mind or stomach should eat surströmming in the way they were demonstrating. So we decided to make a little video of the correct way to eat it. It’s still basically raw fish that’s been fermented with just enough salt to prevent rot. So it was an opportunity I was dreading a little more than looking forward to!
But as you can see in our video, if prepared properly, this stinky Swedish delicacy can actually be enjoyed!
If you’re thinking about eating this Swedish “delicacy” here’s a quick breakdown of what you should know in order to properly prepare it, eat it, and enjoy it…
Does it really stink?
If you’re wondering if it stinks the simple answer is, “Yes!”. But to me it didn’t smell like “rotten fish” or “raw sewage”, the two most common references for the smell of surströmming. Rather it smelled like a very strong cheese. A very strong stinky cheese.
This video was made on the small island of Tjörn which is located off Sweden’s west coast near Gothenburg. During my time on the island flies really weren’t noticeable. That changed when we opened a can of surströmming. Once opened, they swarmed on us like raptors. It was insane. You probably picked up on that watching the video, right?
But here’s some tips to temper the funk so that you’re not turning green when you open the can.
- Put the surströmming can in the freezer for 1 hour before opening. It’s important that you don’t freeze the can. The contents are already under tremendous pressure from being fermented for a year. If you think blowing up a beer or soda can in your freezer is bad, imagine what blowing up a can of fermented fish would be like. You may as well get a new freezer.
- DO NOT OPEN INDOORS. This cannot be stressed enough. You should never open a can inside your house, or anyone’s house for that matter. Take it outside–and make sure the wind isn’t blowing towards the house.
- Submerge the can in water when you open it. The contents are under pressure. The second you break that seal fermented fish juice sprays out. Trust me, you don’t want to be covered in that.
How to prepare surströmming…
I cringe when I see these YouTubers reaching into a can of surströmming and pulling out a herring and popping it into their mouths. These filets need to be cleaned first! Fermented fish innards and roe can’t be nice.
- Slice the herring along the belly.
- Remove the roe. You don’t want this caviar.
- Remove the innards.
- If you prefer, remove the bones and skin. Some folks actually like it with the skin and bones. Not me.
- Surströmming shouldn’t be eaten on its own!
Surströmming isn’t something you’d want to eat by itself. Rather it should be an ingredient in a sandwich. Here’s a list of ingredients to make a surströmming wrap:
- Thin bread
- Almond potatoes (or new potatoes)
- Chives and red onion
- Sour cream
Don’t be afraid!
After watching videos of the horrible experiences folks were having I was pretty apprehensive about trying this dish. But after eating surströmming the correct way, there is just a world of difference in the experience. Yes, it’s funky. But if you prepare it right it’s really not that bad. I’ve had cheeses that were funkier. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.
I hope this video and article inspires you give this Swedish delicacy a try. If you do or have tried it I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!
Click here to check out some of my first adventures in Sweden!